On its fiftieth birthday: crisis-ridden NSSF still only covers one third of the population

Wed, 10/02/2013

With the quasi absence of free health services, nearly one third of the Lebanese population, most of whom are amongst the poor or of limited income, largely rely on the services of the NationalSocial Security Fundwhich suffers from chronic administrative and financial problems thus affecting a large section of citizens of Lebanon.
While, the head of the General Confederation of Labour Union, Ghassan Ghosn, promised that 2013 will be “the year of the NSSF”, the Fund faces its fiftieth birthday which falls on the 26th of September with its only long term department, namely the end of service department, barely functioning.  It is to be noted that this department is perceived to be of a transitory nature and is to be replaced by a pension plan as well as a more comprehensive social protection scheme. It is also to be recorded, that the Fund is not an endowment from the state but rather a solid right of citizenship enshrined in clause 22 of the International Convention of Human Rights and which maintains that every citizen should benefit, as a member of society, from social security and especially for those who fall outside any private insurance scheme.
The NSSF was set up in 1963 through decree number 13955 and according to clause 58 of the Lebanese Constitution.  Its aim is to benefit employees and workers particularly those in the private sector which absorbs 75% of the registered labor in Lebanon and a number of categories of those contracted by the state.  NSSF was bestowed with the legal responsibility to provide health and social services to the Lebanese based on the concept of social solidarity and for the purpose of mitigating material needs amongst citizens through ensuring a level of income that will allow for decent living.
To be noted again that a large proportion of the working force, falls beyond the remit of the labor law, namely those working in agriculture, household work, small family institutions and other kinds of businesses, all of which have a very extensive women presence, and therefore has no right to social security.
According to many observers, the main problem confronting NSSF reside in the fact that though in principle “independent”, the Fund falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor and the Premiership, and is also subjected to the authority of the Ministries of Finance and Public Health, but more importantly, the Fund falls under the whims and interests of political forces.  As a consequence of these multiple negative factors affecting the decision making processes, the Fund is not capable of addressing the social and livelihood concerns of citizens.
The NSSF also suffers from numerous other problems namely, weak administrative structure, inefficient spending and a chronic financial problem, all of which seriously undermined its operation and impacted negatively on subscribers and beneficiaries, and henceforth resulting in  a  continuous deterioration in the size and quality of services, thus rendering subscribers unable to receive adequate health, hospitalization and social coverage despite their long years of services.
The future of the NSSF is now in serious jeopardy and is subject to a number of possible scenarios ranging from its complete demise to more dramatic scenarios one of which is its possible privatization to the benefit of private insurance companies. As it stands,  the NSSF is unable to provide citizens with the needed level of social protection and to mitigate the impact of increasing unemployment in Lebanon.
Despite all the above, the establishment of the NSSF was nevertheless an important step which could be built on.  For that, the state will need to seriously reconsider its current social protection policy (or rather lack of it) and come up with a more inclusive and comprehensive public social security scheme that is efficient, independent and based on the principles of equality and social entitlements for all citizens (men and women alike), whilst providing the necessary comprehensive health and social coverage, protection from unemployment, and a decent life for the elderly after retirement.